Oil prices rally loses steam in Asian trade

Oil pricesSingapore: Oil prices fell in Asia on Thursday after a bargain-buying rally the day before lost steam, with a pick-up in US inventories reinforcing reinforcing concerns about weak demand and a supply glut.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for delivery in February fell 37 cents to USD 48.11 in late-morning trade and Brent crude for February fell 56 cents to USD 48.13.

Both contracts rose sharply yesterday -- WTI gained USD 2.59 and Brent advanced USD 2.10 -- as bargain hunters moved in after prices tumbled close to six-year lows.

Analysts say the market remains hobbled by weak fundamentals, notably weaker demand and an oversupply of the commodity as the world's major oil producers have vowed to maintain production levels.

In the US the Department of Energy said commercial crude stocks surged 5.4 million barrels in the week to January 9. That compares with market forecasts of a 1.75 million barrel gain, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg News.

Rising inventories signal weak demand in the United States, the world's top crude consumer. However, some analysts also say yesterday's price rally could spur a further surge.

"Momentum is a big factor in market behaviour and as we observed such a huge surge, the market could feed on itself," said Ric Spooner, market analyst from CMC Markets Sydney.

"Trading in the European and US markets would give us a clearer indication on where momentum is swinging," said Spooner.

Sanjeev Gupta, who heads the Asia-Pacific Oil and Gas practice at professional services firm EY, said investors are also awaiting the European Central Bank's policy meeting to see if unveils a fresh stimulus programme.--PTI